First let me say that I am not visually impaired or blind and I don't have a personal relationship with anyone who is. I certainly don't want to imply that I know what it's like to be blind or to speak on behalf of people who are blind. Rue is fiction and came completely out of my head and my own imagining of what it would be like to be blind. Therefore, you may ask, why would I make Rue blind?
The short answer is this: I don't know. Often my characters come to me fully fledged and I'm simply trying to keep up with their actions by typing them as fast as I can. When I first started writing, I was completely fascinated by this! Where does inspiration come from? I began to pay attention to every new song I heard on the radio, every piece of art I saw, every new recipe, business, blueprint, movie, play, book I came across. Where did it come from? How did the inventor, the creator, the author think of it? Were they just as confounded by it as I was by my writing?
Yes, of course, what I write comes out of my head and there is always a kernel of something I have experienced or witnessed or heard about that has inspired it, but from there it tends to go off on its own mysterious trajectory. Btw, if you're interested in a captivating story of creativity, inspiration, and innovation, check out this Independent Lens.
The idea for Rue came to me on one of my many trips to San Francisco. I have stayed at the Scarlet Huntington and spent many nights sipping drinks in the Big 4 lounge, so that aspect of the story materialized rather quickly and succinctly. However, in all of my earlier versions of Rue, she was sighted. In fact, I spent an entire year writing my first manuscript with Rue as a sighted lounge singer. Then as I finished, I wrote this in my diary: "Lately, I’ve been having this thought: I must turn Rue into something different. The same plot, the same characters, but Rue is blind. She must be blind."
I couldn't explain it and I dreaded it. To re-write an entire manuscript (that was already finished!) about a character who couldn't see? What was I thinking? But there it was, beating a drum in my head every day until I began again. Rue is blind. I spent another year re-writing , carefully removing all references to visual descriptors, including any time Rue "watched" or "saw" or "noticed" or "beheld" or did anything in any way based on vision. Imagine writing an entire story where you can't explain how people are looking at the main character or how the main character sees the world, looks into people's eyes, regards the colors around her, reads a smile or a wink or a frown.
I spent months researching on-line tools, videos, and resources for people who are blind. Finally, I introduced myself (out of the blue!) to a colleague at work who is visually impaired. I peppered him with questions (he was so gracious!). His insightful feedback was enlightening and I made many modifications to Rue based on his advice and input.
Ultimately, my main goal was to show Rue as strong and independent while also showing how she navigates the world in her own unique way. She is resilient and resourceful and beautiful and organized and kind and caring and smart. And yes, she happens to also be blind.